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Increased confidence in a broad range of open source technologies suggests that the way networking services are delivered is about to fundamentally change.

A survey of 150 professionals working across 98 different service providers conducted by Heavy Reading on behalf of The Linux Foundation, finds that 68 percent are now using open source technologies in a production environment. Moreover, 98 percent of respondents say they are confident open networking solutions can achieve the same level of performance as traditional networking solutions.

While service providers have been investing in open source platforms such as OpenStack for years, the rate at which networking services are now being transformed in anticipation of 5G networks has greatly accelerated. Many service providers today are trying to reduce their dependencies on proprietary technologies in favor of open source software deployed on x86 servers.

There has been some doubt, however, concerning the degree to which that approach would be able to meet the performance requirements of next generation applications. Multiple vendors are making aggressive cases for alternative approaches based on proprietary networking hardware and software. The battle has been especially intense when it comes to constructing software-defined networks (SDNs) that enable service providers to manage physical networks at a higher level of abstraction. The survey finds 86 percent of respondents indicated it’s important that the SDN products their company uses are open source. Thus far, nearly 60 percent of survey respondents report they have either already deployed SDN (39 percent), or currently have one deployed in trial (20 percent).

Service providers are not quite as far down the road when it comes to emerging platforms such as Kubernetes for deploying containerized applications. Only five percent have already adopted Kubernetes in a production environment. But another 34 percent say they are considering adopting Kubernetes or Red Hat OpenShift, a platform for building and deploying applications that is built on top of Kubernetes.

A total of 35 percent of respondents considering adopting Infrastructure as Code methodology for managing IT, while 22 percent have adopted but are still working through challenges.

Complete network transformation

The implications of such fundamental change at the networking layer will be profound for managed service providers (MSPs). Most MSPs are dependent on networking technologies to deliver a wide range of services. As the networking community continues to pour more development resources into these technologies, just about every aspect of networking will be transformed. In effect, various software overlays will combine to flatten the physical underlay in a way provides MSPs and their customers much greater control over networking services. Just as importantly, many of the proprietary technologies that MSPs rely on today to deliver their own services could be replaced by less expensive open source alternatives.

It will take   a while for this shift to completely play out. But MSPs would be well-advised at this point to keep their options open. Most enterprise IT organizations continue to rely on proprietary platforms for networking. But as open source networking technologies finally mature, it’s become apparent that the way networking services are delivered and consumed is about to change utterly.

Photo:  Ravil Sayfullin / Shutterstock.

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Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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